Friday, August 28, 2009

Oi! Genki ka!? Article 4: Onsen (June 2007)

Onsen: Hot Springs

I love hot springs.

Japan's hot springs are fantastic. There's a rich variety of types, and there are many different ways to enjoy them. I feel that Japan is truly blessed to have so many hot springs throughout the country. But, having said that, it doesn't mean that there aren't any hot springs in the US. When I was a child, my grandparents lived in town called Lava Hot Springs, which got its name from the fact that there was indeed a hot spring in the town. Still, even though there are hot springs in the US, the common practice of getting into a hot spring naked in Japan...well, it just doesn't work like that in the States. So the hot spring was turned into a city-run pool, and you could only get in if you were wearing a bathing suit. Which is something my family and I did often, and it's a fond memory I have of my childhood.

When I came to Japan, a Japanese friend of mine told me about Japanese hot springs. Let's just say I had an adverse reaction. I'm as big a fan of a nice hot bath as the next person, but I wouldn't be caught dead hopping into a warm bath with a bunch of other naked men. No thank you. However often I was invited, I always refused.

Then I experienced my first Japanese winter. Over here, it's a strangely damp cold, and the daily feeling of freezing straight down to the marrow gradually wore down my reluctance towards Japanese hot springs. I still put up a fight for a while, but finally, one day, a friend told me, "You look really tired lately. I'm taking you to Tamatsukuri Hot Springs (a famous local onsen near Matsue)," and as all my fight had been taken out of me by the cold cold cold of Matsue's winter, I said "Okay" and off we went.

It was with quite a bit of nervousness that I entered the bathing area, washed off, and then got in the bath...(In Japan, it is common practice, as everyone shares the bathwater even at home, to wash off and get clean before getting in the bath.)

"What the heck IS this!? This feels GREAT! What have I been doing this whole time!? Why didn't I decide to go to a hot spring sooner?" I verbally beat myself up for a while. Once you're in the bath itself, all the things that I was worried about turn out to be no big deal. The thing that had me worried the most, other people, ceased to be a problem the second I took off my glasses. I couldn't see anything, so I ceased to care. ("Out of sight, out of mind", anyone?) Even after I going back to my apartment, I was still warm! Which, I can assure you, was a feeling I had been very unfamiliar with all winter. I was so happy. At that moment, my addiction to onsen began.

Of course, even after getting over that first big hurdle, there are still a lot of things that have shocked me about hot springs over here. Dad's taking their daughters (preschool age) in to the changing room and into the bath; the cleaing ladies coming not only into the changing room, but into the bathing area as well; and then there was the time that I got into a mixed bath without knowing that it was one and then having no idea what was the proper "mixed bath" ettiquette...let's just say that the surprises kept on coming. Still, it's something you get used to if you keep going. I now enjoy everything about onsen over here. From the big hot springs hotels to the small local baths, I've seen them all, but I still plan on enjoying a nice hot bath while letting out an "Aahhhh, now that's some nice hot water" as I get in.

1 comment:

  1. Your mom approves...

    They're here in poky, and she gave me the new blog's URL.

    She also said you're weighing how much to shift 'voice' as you translate. My vote is that a translated story like these that keeps that not-talking-to-Americans nuance is a bonus.